Better Farm Has an Apple Orchard

 Photo/Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District

Photo/Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District

We've got the first round of plantings done in our brand-new apple orchard! Last week we planted Honeycrisp and Jonemac trees sourced from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District in Watertown. Many thanks to volunteers Matthew Tardif and Fran Farren for digging some holes!

We'll be ordering another batch of apple trees this week, bringing our number of apple trees planted this year to around 40. The low number and varieties will allow us to trouble shoot while keeping a close eye on how each individual tree is doing. We will also be adding a dwarf fig and manchurian bush apricot into the mix. Eventually, we will have hundreds of apple and other fruit trees in an orchard filling the field next to Better Farm's main house.

The apple orchard will provide the public with fresh-pressed cider, pick-your-own apples, harvest festivals and much much more in the coming years.

The 100-percent organic apple orchard will be free of any chemical pesticides or fertilizers and will boast bee hives for pollination, walkways for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy, and a nearby pond and gazebo for outdoor picnics, fishing and camping.

The installation of the orchard will be completed over the course of the next several years. Each spring we will plant a few dozen more apple and fruit trees until there are hundreds in the field alongside Better Farm's main house. We will also be digging the existing pond out to be many feet deeper for year-round fish survival and filtration. At the pond, a gazebo will be constructed next to a weeping willow tree.

This year, we will be planting six varieties of apple trees.

For those of you interested in planting your own trees, here are some helpful instructions courtesy of the soil and water conservation group:

  • Plan ahead! Think about what these trees will look like in 10 years, will the branches cross your property line? Will the tree grow into overhead lines, shade your garden or cause snow to drift into your driveway? Will roots tunnel into drain tiles or crack foundation walls or sidewalks?
  • Plant at least 75 feet away from the closest building.
  • Make sure your tree has space to grow tall and wide.
  • Protect seedlings in your yard from a lawnmower by using a fence or marker.
  • If you are not instantly planting your seedlings, store them in a cool, dark, damp place. Keep roots watered but not soaking.
  • Plant in early spring to avoid hot, dry weather.
  • Dig a hole deep and wide enough for the roots to fall straight down in and run parallel to the soil surface. J-rooting, when roots are bent back toward the soil surface, can cause eventual tree death.
  • In the hole, add a lining of compost, dead leaves and/or hay and twigs. The compost will feed your tree as well as any commercial fertilizer.
  • Make a center mound under the root ball so it sits atop the mound with roots cascading down around it.
  • Fill in the hole around the roots and step down around the stem to remove air pockets. Do not stomp!
  • Effective weed control enhances tree survival and growth. Mowing and mulching around trees are great methods to prevent weeds. We put cardboard around each sapling's base and covered the cardboard with mulch. This also helps with water retention and protects the tree against extreme temperature.

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.